Reviews | Xbox

Genma Onimusha

By Alex Kierkegaard / June 27, 2006

I first played Onimusha (2001) a couple of months after its US release. I didn't actually finish the game at that time, though I got very close, because it was snatched from my central London apartment by burglars, along with my PS2, memory cards and a bunch of NTSC-U games. The positive side to this tragedy was that when Genma Onimusha was released on Xbox the following winter I had a good reason to sit down and do it all over again, and in the process become acquainted with an admirable port.

Genma is a slight upgrade to the original game, and as an Xbox launch title was part of a promise of strong Capcom support for Microsoft's new system. That support never fully materialised, and future Onimusha games would stay exclusive to the PS2, but the additions and refinements introduced here are significant and have made Genma the definitive version for discerning fans of the series.

Though Onimusha's main problem (the puzzles) has not been addressed, the difficulty, its second major shortcoming, has been jacked up a notch. This has been accomplished by introducing more enemies in certain spots (as well as a couple of new ones), and adding a new type of soul to collect and a related combat mechanic. Then there's Ayame, a possessed doll with a half dozen three-foot long blades, who appears at specific points during the adventure and follows you around incessantly, even from one screen to the next (none of the normal enemies do this). Worst of all, it appears she can't be killed.

While Ayame and the extra monsters are welcome additions, the new soul type is most effective at increasing the complexity of the battles, and thus the game's difficulty level. Absorbing green souls will fill up a new meter on the top left corner of the screen. When all of the slots are full, pressing the White button will slowly raise your health and make you completely invulnerable to enemy attacks, giving you an opportunity to lash out with complete disregard for defense. This effect will last until the meter is fully depleted. Absorbing more green souls during this time will prolong the effect.

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The problem is that, unlike other types of souls, enemies can also suck up green ones. If they manage to absorb one they turn red and go nuts, attacking you with much more ferocity. Having three or four enemies go nuts at once can be a formidable challenge to overcome. Making matters even more complex, monsters can knock green souls loose from you if they score a solid hit. When an enemy is vying for the same green soul as you are, you engage in a tug-of-war contest and have to tap on the A button rapidly to win. Naturally, while tapping A you can't block or strike back, leaving yourself vulnerable to enemy attacks.

This mechanic isn't particularly elegant, and I would have preferred some more intelligent foes that make your life harder by co-ordinating their attacks. But it works surprisingly well in practice, and I spent a couple hours getting my ass handed to me, and almost quit, before mastering it and going on to finally finish the game in one enjoyable, all-night session.

And there's yet another new move which I must not forget to mention. By keeping the attack button pressed down for a set amount of time you can charge your sword up for a powerful attack (this is R-Type reaching beyond the confines of the shoot 'em up genre, as I never tire of pointing out). You'll need this trick and all the other ones to overcome the added challenges in this game.

On a superficial level, Genma includes a few new areas, cutscenes and unlockable costumes, and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound which I've yet to try out. There is also a whole new tower to explore at the end (similar in design to the Dark Realm), which is worth taking on if you like this sort of thing. I am told that this version looks a bit sharper than the original, but since I've not had the opportunity to see both games run side-by-side, I can't confirm this.

Genma Onimusha is an ideal port -- one that adds new content and tries its best to fix the original's shortcomings, rather than simply adapting it to run on different hardware. It's a shame few people ever got to play it. Capcom grossly overestimated demand, and there are now so many copies in the Japanese market that I've seen new ones go for 300 yen.

What I can't understand is the significance of the title. Onimusha means 'oni warrior' in Japanese; a reference to the fact that Samanosuke receives the gauntlet from the oni gods and fights on their behalf. But the genma are the enemy. Genma Onimusha then doesn't seem to mean anything, though if your grasp of Japanese syntax is better than mine then maybe you could write in and enlighten me.